Origami is an ancient Japanese art through which you can fold a single sheet of paper into complex structures. Did you ever imagine that this ancient art would one day inspire a technological breakthrough in the self-assembling robotics? That’s a reality. Scientists at MIT and Harvard have developed, inspired by origami, a new robot that assembles itself autonomously in just four minutes and crawls away like a crab, without any human intervention.

Origami Robots

Origami-inspired robot costs less than $100

And the best thing is that it doesn’t cost much to build this robot; just $100 is sufficient. Researchers took a composite paper, flexible circuit board, motors, batteries and Shrinky dinks. Shrinky dink is a plastic sheet that shrinks when heated. It’s sold as children’s toy. Sam Felton, lead author of the study and a PhD scholar at Harvard, attached a microcontroller, two batteries and two motors to the sheet.

Though the robot takes just four minutes to fold itself, it took about two hours of Felton to construct it. Felton said it was far simpler and cheaper than the process for most machines today. It shows the potential to automate much of the assembly and design process. The study appeared in the journal Science. It’s the first-ever robot that assembles itself and performs a function without any human intervention.

Origami approach helped scientists avoid the “nuts and bolts” method

Rob Wood, a Core Faculty member at Harvard University, said that getting a robot to self-assemble and perform functions is something his team has been chasing for years. It represents potential for exotic applications as well. You can send dozens of robotic satellites to space. Once there, they can assemble themselves to collect data, take images and conduct other tests.

Scientists used computer design tools to set the fold pattern and optimal design. They created about 40 prototypes before zeroing in on one that could self-assemble and crawl away. The origami-inspired design enabled them to avoid the traditional “nuts and bolts” method to assemble complex things like a robot.